New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests
"Dinosaur" is among the words New York CIty is looking to ban from tests, apparently over concerns it could bother creationists.
March 28th, 2012
07:19 PM ET

New York city schools want to ban 'loaded words' from tests

By Brian Vitagliano, CNN

New York (CNN) - Divorce. Dinosaurs, Birthdays. Religion. Halloween. Christmas. Television. These are a few of the 50-plus words and references the New York City Department of Education is hoping to ban from the city’s standardized tests.

The banned word list was made public – and attracted considerable criticism – when the city’s education department recently released this year’s "request for proposal" The request for proposal is sent to test publishers around the country trying to get the job of revamping math and English tests for the City of New York.

The Department of Education's says that avoiding sensitive words on tests is nothing new, and that New York City is not the only locale to do so. California avoids the use of the word "weed" on tests and Florida avoids the phrases that use "Hurricane" or "Wildfires," according to a statement by the New York City Department of Education.

In its request for proposal, the NYC Department of Education explained it wanted to avoid certain words if the "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."

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Matthew Mittenthal, a spokesman for the NYC Department of Education, said this is the fifth year they have created such a list.  He said such topics "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."

"Dinosaurs" evoking unpleasant emotions? The New York Post speculated that the "dinosaurs" could "call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists.”

But what the tabloid failed to realize is that those "fundamentalists" who oppose evolution on religious grounds, believe wholeheartedly in dinosaurs.

Young Earth creationists, or Biblical creationists as they prefer to be called, often point to dinosaurs in making their arguments.  They say dinosaurs and humans roamed Earth together, citing legends of dragons and say the fossil record shows the earth is 6,000 years old, though few paleontologists and geologists share this theory.

At the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, the heart of the Young Earth Creationism movement, dinosaur models and exhibits fill the museum displays and gift shop.

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Apparently many of the words on New York’s list were  avoided because of faith-based concerns.

For instance, the use of the word "birthday" or the phrase "birthday celebrations" may offend Jehovah's Witnesses, who do not celebrate birthdays. A spokesperson for the Jehovah's Witnesses declined to comment on the use of the word "birthday."

The Department of Education would not go on the record to explain the specific reasons for each word, which has left many to speculate and draw their own conclusions.

Halloween may suggest paganism; divorce may conjure up uneasy feelings for children in the midst of a divorce within their family. One phrase that may surprise many, the term "Rock 'n' Roll" was on the "avoid" list.

Piers Morgan's "Only in America": 50 banned words

And not good news for Italians: the Department of Education also advised avoiding  references to types of food, such as pepperoni, products they said "persons of some religions or cultures may not indulge in."

The Department of Education said, "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction."

Stanford University Professor Sam Wineburg is an expert in the field of education and director of the Stanford History Education Group.

When reached by phone said Wineburg, after a brief pause on the line, "the purpose of education is to create unpleasant experiences in us. ... The Latin meaning if education is 'to go out.'  Education is not about making us feel warm and fuzzy inside."

Wineburg questioned the idea that the New York City Department of Education would want to "shield kids from these types of encounters."  He said the goal of education is to "prepare them," adding "this is how we dumb down public schools."

CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Education

soundoff (3,780 Responses)
  1. 1gadawg

    ...and they cite California as a shining example – enough said; want a better educational system, get rid of the current batch of administrators...

    March 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  2. Michael

    I am flabbergasted. Our kids don't stand a chance with education systems this screwed up.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • TR6

      Being both over weight and subject to iratable bowl syndrome I am offended by "flabergasted"

      March 29, 2012 at 11:37 am |
    • virgincapt


      March 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Sid Airfoil

    "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words." Spoken by the character Syme, in "1984", by George Orwell.

    I wonder if "1984" is required reading in the NYC public school system...or among its administrators.


    March 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  4. Jeffrey

    I say we bring the dinosaurs back and let them eat the people who want to ban them.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  5. SPA Knight

    This is an example of the "political Correctness" movement that has gone out of control. The censorship of words from our everyday vocabulary. Perhaps the the Department of Eductaion should re-evaluate their mission because it seems like they are accomplishing the polar opposite of providing an environment for learning. Give education back to the local schools and get these bureaucrats out of the way before they sanitize education down to a few grunts and heiroglyphics.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  6. HankC

    Careful... Socialism is right around the corner. What is New York going to ban next? Breathing?

    March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • 1gadawg

      no, but you'll need a goverment permit to prove you need it...

      March 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  7. cj

    Garbage like this is why the this country is failing. 'We the people' vote these geniuses in and accept this kind of legislation. Speaking of NYC again...the billionaire that bought his illegal 3rd term as mayor of the city wants to start charging bicyclist tolls and somehow he hasn't been run out of the city?

    The Democrats have the White House and Senate, yet we are expanding and adding military basses around the world while we face a double dip recension. I'm sure the Republicans would be doing worse but why are we accepting very bad over awful?

    100% turnover in every election every year from your local alderman to the president is what we need until things begin being run in a way that benefits the American people rather than the politicians and the rich.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
  8. Viking

    What the heck is the matter with this country? Can't anyone take something for what it is and not be offended. Good Grief!

    March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • TR6

      Having suffered through the recient and tragic death of my gold fish Binkey, I am offended by the word "grief"

      March 29, 2012 at 11:54 am |
  9. Ryan

    I understand these terms are only for tests ONLY. Kinda dumb, but test writers get dumb too and create some offensive test questions. ie. If Treyvon was at his mothers house for 5 days and he went to get Skittles and tea 3 of those days, write the numerical percentage of days Treyvon went to get Skittles? Would you want stuff like this on your childs' tests? That is what this is designed to do, for TESTS so students for ANY stupid reason cannot blame failed tests on test content distraction. THATS IT. Can you create a test without the word dinosaur. Yes. I do not recall being tested on dinosaurs in school. This does not prohibit dinosaurs from being discussed in class at all. I'm not sayin I agree with it, but. . . . discuss. I'm so verclempt.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  10. Jim970

    Unbelievable. I think they should ban the word "school". That certainly brings stressful, negative feelings for me.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  11. Foreverwar

    I think the only two books that they will have left after the word police are done, will be the phone book and an a user manual for a 1980 Bell and Howell film projector.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  12. PETA

    The word 'Fur' , 'Meat' and 'skin' should be in the list!

    You offend me otherwise.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • PETA

      Also, for school lunch you should NOT serve any kind of meat.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • Muslim

      The word Pork offends me.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • Dalia Lama

      The word Beef offends me

      March 29, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • cj

      They shouldn't talk about the ethical treatment of animals because it brings to mind the idea of unethical treatment of animals and that disturbs me.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:10 am |
  13. DC

    I cant believe people would even think we lived with the Dinosaurs. If they got wiped out, how did we survive? On top of that, how did we not get eaten? We have more proof that this is absolutely not true! We are breeding ourselves stupid due to religion.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Jack

      One very small sect, or cult, of this offshoot of an offshoot believes that. The scientific equivalent of you logic is believing all science is wrong because the weather forecastor is wrong.
      But I do believe we are making ourselves dumber like you said. It's because of Liberals that come up with these stupid offensive word lists. Everyone can do anything they want unless it offends someone. But everything offends someone. So everyone is offended about something. Therefore, no one can do anything. That offends other people though....

      March 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • cj

      The baby Jebus road a triceratops to school every day. How can you possibly not know this?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Alex

      their not saying we lived with the dinosaurs you idiot.. its a scientific fact we didn't. if you would brush up on a little history. its simply implying that it wasn't adam and eve whom were first to walk the earth like mentioned in the bible. anyone with any intellect would know that after the dinosaur age came other animals (mammals) and we evolved into humans.. they were just explaining how dinosaurs would conflict with religious teachings.. some peoples kids......

      March 29, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • qanerd

      But you feel nothing about the idiocy of the school board?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
  14. Devin

    After reading this article I'm pretty sure my IQ dropped a few points. As did my patriotism.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  15. Pathetic

    The word "word" should be banned as it will make people think of words that make them feel uncomfortable. Also, the period should be banned as it only serves a purpose in proper grammar thus having no real-world importance.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
  16. AC

    The Wussafication of America is coming. When will they learn that it is impossible to please everyone.

    March 29, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • B.A.

      Who is they?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  17. Kramer

    I've got one for ya....how about we ban JEWS from America? Just kick out the whiny parasites....ship 'em off to Israel or wherever the hell they claim God gave 'em land. That would solve a lot of our problems - financial swindles, unnecessary wars, moral turpitude, the war on religion...heck, without those Shylock b-stards our country would regain its status as the 'light of the Western world'. If we can't ban 'em, I say we fire up the ovens and break out the zyklon-B....I know, I know - the 'holocaust' was an enormous myth, but at least those hook-nosed goblins who invented framed Hitler gave us some good ideas for the future!!

    March 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • hopeyoudie

      I really hope you get hit by a bus today, you racist piece of garbage.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • shootmyownfood

      I'm surprised that your keepers let you near the computer. Be quick! They're coming to get you!

      March 29, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  18. CB

    Wow..If every word that could ever offend anybody was banned, no one anywhere would ever be able to talk.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:59 am |
  19. Michael

    As a Christian I don't understand why the word "dinosaur" would be considered offensive. We know for a fact that dinosaurs did exist, so the question isn't whether dinosaurs were real but whether they were the result of evolution. Personally I think this proposal's a waste of time and taxpayers money.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • Aezel

      "so the question isn't whether dinosaurs were real but whether they were the result of evolution."

      That isn't really a question amongst the scientific community. It was settled long ago, and nobody who actually knows anything about evolution and is educated even considers it. It is only a "debate" amongst the laughable creationist community.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • Chrs

      As a fellow Christian I wonder if this is a sidways insult to us and our faith.

      March 29, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • Jhen


      It's funny that 'educated' people criticize religious people for propagating their faith and ideas, yet whenever the need for blasting religious beliefs with science is needed, it's those same hypocrites with their mouths open and noise coming out 🙂

      I mean, as long as you aren't moved by the idea, what does it matter to you?

      March 29, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  20. Whammybar

    Our systems are so full of flaws anyway why would a few words really matter. Everyone knows Edison invented the light bulb right? Wrong!
    Dumbing down really is the correct term for this. What happens to these students when life shows up. So sad.

    March 29, 2012 at 10:58 am |
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